Member of Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) Lagos State Chapter
Socialists do not rejoice at the travail of others, including even members of the ruling elite. But when a member of the ruling elite like Kehinde Bamigbetan, the Chairman of Ejigbo Local Council Development Area (LCDA), is kidnapped at gunpoint and on his own street, it does provide another telescope to view the dangerous implication of the capitalist-induced socio-economic crisis ravaging Nigeria. Months ago, the mother of Okonjo Iweala, the Nigeria's Finance Minister and Coordinating Minister of the economy, was kidnapped in similar circumstances. No one should be in doubt. This horrible scenario of insecurity will continue to play out as long as Nigeria remains an unequal society divided between the super-rich 1% and the 99% consisting of poor working class people and jobless youths.
Perhaps one thing Bamigbetan's kidnap has exposed is how key anti-poor policies of the Fashola's Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) government has helped to promote criminality and violence in Lagos state. Strangely, the exposure came from the kidnapped man himself few hours after he walked into the arms of his grateful family and friends. He had spent five harrowing days in the kidnappers den - certainly not something anyone would like to experience.
According to Bamigbetan while narrating his ordeal, the kidnappers "started agitating that they were graduates, they didnt like what they were doing but there are no jobs. One claimed to be an engineering graduate, one studied Human Resources management, another said he was already in final year in a United States varsity when his father's shopping complex was demolished and he had to be recalled home. One said he was an okada operator and government had just outlawed his source of income. They were generally bitter about youth unemployment" (Guardian newspaper 22/4/13 Pg12). This is not news actually except that the admission is coming from an ACN Local Council boss.
What is however novel in Bamigbetan's tale is that two of the unfortunate incidents that drove these youths into crime are also two of the most fiercely imposed anti-poor policies of the ACN government over the last few years: demolition of working people homes/shops without compensation/alternative and brutal clampdown on commercial motorcycle (okada) riders. Over the last 14 years of ACN administration in Lagos State, thousands of homes and shops have been demolished. 0ver 300 houses were demolished in Oke Ilu-Eri community early this year. Demolition has taken place in many communities including Makoko, Ijora Badia, Ladipo auto spareparts market, Ojora, Epe-Odo Eragbusi etc. The list is endless. The demolition occurs without providing adequate alternatives and often, as Amnesty International has repeatedly noted, without adequate notice. The hapless residents are not allowed to remove a pin from their shelter by armed policemen. In cases where alternative markets were provided, the shops were too pricey for the poor victims to afford. Whole families are then denied their means of livelihood thus forcing the youths to find whatever means to survive. In the ocean of mass poverty and unemployment, the easiest means of survival is crime.
Even now, the government demolition squad is still active in many parts of the state. Just last month, countless numbers of homes and shops in Iganmu Alawo and Badia fell in the path of ACN's bulldozers. Poor, ragtag and shanty shelters are often the targets. The basic motivation behind this demolition is to make Lagos State a Mega city for only the rich. This could only be achieved by driving the poor from the city centre to the poor suburbs where their abysmal poverty can be barricaded from public view. The lands so reclaimed are leased to private developers who build luxury estates for princely rents. If this is not the case, then demolition should have gone on side-by-side with a program by government to build affordable alternative homes and shops for the victims. But instead of this, the Lagos State government is more interested in a Lagos for the rich and rich only.
Responding to criticisms that his government is creating homelessness in Ijora, Fashola exclaimed "we are builders and not demolishers". However it remains to be seen how many working class people made homeless in Ijora would afford the cost of the 1008 housing units promised by the government. The Eko Atlantic City says it all; an ambitious engineering project being built by South Energyx Nigeria Limited on about 3.5 square miles of land reclaimed from the sea. A whopping $3.5 billion project and not a single of its estimated 300, 000 luxurious housing units would be available to the poor; not even any of the medium and low-pay workers labouring on it since 2008. Real estate developers have estimated cost of owning a property in the city when completed in the region of $2million dollars! This in a state where millions of homeless people sleep under bridges! These are the class polarisation that creates a feeling of alienation, bitterness and neglect which eventually drives people into crime.
The same can be said of the ban of okada operators. One of government alleged excuses was that motorcycles were being used for robbery. However as the Democratic Socialist Movemnent (DSM) as well as the Joint Action Front (JAF) which led a campaign against the policy last year pointed out, banning okada would most likely mean condemning over 100,000 youths who depend on it as a means of livelihood to unemployment and by extension crime. During the JAF protests last year, some of the dominating slogans were that the government would by this policy increase the crime rate in cosmopolitan Lagos.
But the ACN government rammed through the policy, repressed the protesters, arrested and detained JAF leaders. Scores of okada riders were killed by the police while trying to effect the ban. Some were shot; some pursued to their death. As at December last year, over 20,000 motorcycles were reported seized and destroyed by the police. Unofficially, tens of thousands more motorcycles had been taken into police custody and the owners could only secure them in exchange for a bribe of between N20, 000 and N30, 000. This has opened a thriving business for the police. It is now normal to see, on a daily basis, police trucks and vans filled with seized motorcycles of some unfortunate okada riders.
For many, this is the last straw. In a country where over 40 million youths are unemployed, there is virtually no hope for working class youths. This is the fertile ground upon which crimes, violence and boko haram germinates. And the rich knows this except that they cannot help it; because they benefit from it. But to their distaste, they are often caught up in the dangerous mix of poverty, joblessness and crimes their anti-poor policies have created. It is only at that time they realise, but only for a fleeting moment, the hydra-headed monsters they have unleashed.
Mindful of his safety, Bamigbetan did not reveal his true identity to the kidnappers. He told them he was a journalist; but going through his laptop they soon discovered he is a Local Government Chairman. Bamigbetan paints himself as an altruistic and people-friendly politician who is helping his people but this is bollocks to ordinary people whose livelihood is being daily crushed by the machinery of Lagos state. According to his narration, the kidnappers pointedly asked him "They said you are a local government chairman; you are the one stealing our money. I told them I didn't steal money and I started elucidating my programmes of free meal and uniforms for children in schools, free drugs for everybody in our PHCs and several skill acquisition initiatives". Who would be moved by this in a society where politicians collect jumbo salaries and allowances and daily loot the treasury dry? Nigeria is a society where the biggest cars, the most luxurious houses and many companies and businesses are owned by politicians or those close to them.
Bamigbetan has regained his freedom but at what price? No one knows. The kidnappers first demand was for $1million. The police whom the ruling class often rely upon to attack innocent working class people and youth were completely useless in this instance. They could not save him. But according to Bamigbetan, he and the kidnappers soon "came to an understanding and they came back later to say they were not satisfied with the negotiated sum; they needed more". One way or the other, the council boss walked home into the waiting hands of his family and loved ones last Saturday. Everyone is happy; but the crisis remains unsolved.
Somewhere out there are poor and desperate jobless youths prowling to kidnap another victim. And it is not in all cases that the victims are members of the ruling elite. In the southeast, University lecturers are being kidnapped in droves for a ransom. We need socialist transformation of Nigeria to ensure an egalitarian society that caters for the interest of all unlike the capitalist system that breeds poverty, joblessness and crime in the midst of abundance. The Alliance for Progressive Change (APC) is a combination of people and parties whose policies created this ocean of poverty amidst plenty. They cannot truly represent the interests of working class people and poor youths seeking real change. Real solution to Nigeria's problem will only come when workers and poor masses take political power which is why socialists have formed and have begun to build the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN).